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History, characteristics, acclaim: we review everything you need to know about Alsace wines to understand and enjoy them to the full!
The dry and sunny Alsace region offers very favourable conditions for viticulture. According to some historians, the Romans brought vines to Alsace, while others consider that they were more likely to have been introduced in the Early Middle Ages.
Winegrowing then flourished under the influence of the monastic orders and the Carolingians. Widely acclaimed in the Middle Ages, Alsace wines were highly prized; their quality was ensured by the Alsace winegrowers, who established rules for selection and production early on. In the 16th century, the area in which Alsace wines were produced was twice as large as today’s winegrowing region.
During the Thirty Years’ War, a large part of it was destroyed. The long reconstruction of the Alsace winegrowing area was completed after the First World War, and validated after 1945, when a quality policy was introduced. This culminated in 1962, when the Alsace AOC (controlled designation of origin) was recognised by the French regulatory body for AOC products. This was followed in 1975 by AOC Alsace Grand Cru and in 1976 by AOC Crémant d’Alsace.
The surface of the winegrowing area was more than 15,000 hectares in 2013, which is a modest size when compared to the other main French winegrowing areas.
One of the main characteristics of Alsace wines is that they are all varietal wines, with the exception of Edelzwicker, which is a blend.
The grape varieties allowed in Alsace are:
Alsace wine production is therefore essentially composed of white and sparkling wines, with Pinot Noir representing only 12% of the total.
51 lieux dits in the Alsace winegrowing area, mainly located in Haut-Rhin, are classified as Grands Crus in plots varying in size from 3 to 80 hectares. Only four grape varieties are generally allowed in AOC Alsace Grands Crus: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. There are however exemptions for some Grand Crus: blends are thus permitted for Altenberg de Bergheim and Kaefferkopf, while Sylvaner is allowed in Zotzenberg.
Regularly distinguished in international competitions, the racy and elegant Alsace Grands Crus will undoubtedly continue to make news!